Rumors and Commentary

Our Favorite Kind of Magic

“Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-Ay,
Home sweet home is the lesson today.
Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, Zip-A-Dee-Ay,
I’m glad to be here and I’m sure gonna stay!”

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Splash Mountain night from rocks TDL

Sitting on a cold bench, my mind drifted to all of the pounds I’ve lost over the years while walking around the lagoon. All those hot afternoons walking around World Showcase, drenched in sweat, and now I just wanted a jacket to put over my sweatshirt. We had extra jackets on the way via family but not until after the Candlelight Processional. When I’m back and sweating at Disney World, I’m sure I’ll long for that 40-degree December night.

Minutes before the show started, a man walked up and asked if the spot next to me was taken. It wasn’t although the view was obstructed by a tree trunk. He sat down. The man looked somewhat homely, with a beard and frazzled hair. Like the rest of us, he was woefully under-prepared for that cold night, sitting in a t-shirt and shorts and shivering.

Shortly after he sat, the show began. The Candlelight Processional is a moving experience, regardless of if you can feel your fingers or not. As the story deepened, so too did the music. About halfway through the program, the choir and orchestra do a beautiful performance of Away in a Manger followed by O Holy Night. The music and story that I’d heard thousands of times hit me on a personal level. I looked to my left, to where this stranger had sat down, and saw that in between shivers, he was crying.

Eventually the show ended and the man ducked out before I could say hello or introduce myself. For some reason or another, I couldn’t stop thinking of that man who sat next to me. Was he from around here? What was it that brought him to Disney World? What brought him to tears? Maybe he stuck in my mind because his appearance was different from most who travel to Disney World solo. Maybe there was something more than that.

The next day, we were in Magic Kingdom and I was still thinking about that whole experience. We spent the entire day in the park, our last day at Disney World on that trip. As the park was closing, Melissa and I were wandering around the Main Street windows, enjoying their Christmas themed stories. There was the man who sat next to me, looking at the windows a few steps down from us, thankfully he had a sweater on this time as we were all a little more prepared. I’m a fairly shy and awkward person, but after a few minutes of summoning up courage, I walked over to him.

“I think I sat next to you at the show last night.” Great conversation starter, Andrew. He recognized me and thankfully wasn’t as awkward as me, asking us how we enjoyed the show and saying how spiritual the experience was. We agreed. Eventually, the talking turned to coming to the Disney Parks. This man told us that 14 years ago, a hurricane hit his home – Hurricane Katrina. He had to relocate to Orlando from New Orleans for a few years. In that time he would visit Disney World when he could. Eventually, he moved back to New Orleans but still tries to make it back to the parks frequently because they meant so much to him at that point in his life. “It’s only like a 10 hour drive, so I can make it down here pretty easily” he said.

In the brief 10 minutes or so we talked, he seemed like a humble man. Always returning questions to us after he would quickly answer ours. He was genuine too. I’m not sure why his story has struck such a chord with me. I’m just happy to have met him, pray that he’s doing well and glad he has a home away from home.

Candlelight Processional middle choir Epcot

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“There’s a great big, beautiful tomorrow
Shining at the end of every day”

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Cowboy Indian IASW DL

Me and it’s a small world have had quite a relationship this year. But I think it’s fitting when actually thinking about the attraction. The ride goes through lands and adventures, showcasing scenes from different countries and little dolls that fit into those particular country’s customs. Are there generalizations and stereotypes? Yeah, probably. But, it’s sweet nonetheless. Throughout the ride the song plays. You know how it goes, I don’t need to repeat it here. It’s a reminder that no matter how far we go, people are still people and they care about you.

2020 has been a year where all of our circles have shrunk and many social issues have come up. It’s a year when the world, despite all of us going through the same thing, felt a little too big. I sat on this ride in January and cried because I wished the world was a little smaller. Now, I’m guessing all of us feel that way. Wouldn’t it be nice to see that friend that you see twice a year at parties? How about hugging your cousin or grandma? It all seems like a dream.

I’m a hopeful man, even when I’m at my lowest. This ride has meant a lot to me this year and I think is emblematic of the journey we’ve all been on in 2020. Right now our boat is slowly drifting through those countries. Your relative might be complaining about how long and annoying this all is. There’s some crazy hallucinatory dreams with bright colors and creepy dolls. Just me? Oh, okay. But we’re slowly getting there. We’re slowly getting to that last room.

The last scene in it’s a small world is bathed in white. Everything is made pure. You could call the scene Heaven. To me, it’s a representation of us all living in harmony. In Disneyland’s version of the ride there’s a cowboy and Native American standing up in the corner in that room. The two have been foes for centuries, rivals on the plains and throughout literature. But there they are, standing shoulder to shoulder. For all the bad that 2020 has brought, and I know there’s been a barrage of bad, I like to think that we’re a little closer to foes standing together in harmony. As equals. Maybe they’re even standing shoulder to shoulder and not six feet apart.

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“As the winds of your fortune propel you along

Always steer to the right, or you’ll drift to the wrong
Help all those who need helping, no matter their size
For the compass of your heart leads to your prize!

Life is the greatest adventure!
There is no map, there’s no chart!
But if you seek life’s great treasure, follow the compass of your heart!”

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Arabian Coast fountain carousel night TDS

I was standing in DisneySea’s Arabian Coast with hardly anyone around. My friends had gone off to take in a couple more rides before the park closed and we, sadly, would make our way back to the U.S. Apparently, they had quite a rush and wound up running at speeds that they still talk about to this day. Another story for another day. The last few moments of my night were spent in front of that double-decker carousel trying to take a better version of the photo you can see above.

Tokyo Disney Resort doesn’t allow tripods so nighttime photography takes a little imagination. Garbage cans, benches and the ground become the tripod and it likely makes me look more foolish than I already am. On that night, I had settled near the fountain and placed my camera on a bench. As I said, the area was nearly devoid of anybody save for a lady who looked roughly the same age as me.

She was also taking photos and we were both focused on the same subject. Before long it became clear that we were vying for the same spot to place our cameras. Neither of us spoke the others language but that didn’t stop her from motioning for me to take the spot. I rushed and snapped a quick (or as quick as long-exposure photography can be) shot and then moved out of the way, pointing for her to take the spot. We went back and forth and did this several times. It wasn’t especially efficient and I would have told her to just take her pictures and I’d wait if we spoke the same language. But, she insisted and we both laughed after each turn taken, nodding in appreciation of the other.

In the chaos that can be visiting a theme park, the two of us were kids on the playground taking turns. Eventually, she moved on ahead, probably thinking about how strange the whole experience was. I sat there for a few minutes after. No words were ever said between us, there were hardly even any sounds outside of cameras clicking and I can’t imagine it was a memorable moment in her life. But sometimes when I’m driving and pretending that I don’t see the car in the other lane with their blinker on who wants to get in ahead of me, I think about her and that moment and then let them in.

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“We go on
To the joy and through the tears.
We go on
To discover new frontiers.
Moving on
With the current of the years.”

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Illuminations blue torii gate Epcot

We stood on the boat dock, ready for a quick trip to Wilderness Lodge for lunch. The plan was for a quiet respite for lunch instead of the bustle of Magic Kingdom. Our quiet respite started as anything but. A conversation with two ladies, who had retired in Central Florida, behind us started inconspicuously. One of the ladies frequented Disney World often. The other had been once before and said it really wasn’t her thing.

In the next ten minutes of boat waiting, we learned a great deal about the lady who loved Disney World. I’m guessing that most of us have had someone dump their whole life story on them unexpectedly. This was that instance, except this time it was actually enjoyable. This lady, born in the Bahamas and sporting a lovely accent to prove it all these years later, was incredibly charming and very self-aware. She kept apologizing for being a talker. She didn’t need to, I could have listened to her talk all day long.

While her friend stood shyly and maybe slightly embarrassed to her side, this lady told us stories about living in New York at a young age. One of her roommates back then, “a sweet girl”, was from Seattle and thus a connection was made to us. She kept apologizing to us for the cold, something that seemed well outside the realm of her control. Although, I think she could have probably talked me into the weather being her fault.

Once in a while, her friend would chime in with a snarky remark to clarify a certain point. The friend didn’t enjoy her experience in the parks before because of crowds and the heat. Now, the wonderful talker brought her back to experience “her Disney”. They were resort hopping, seeing the piano player at the Grand Floridian and the architecture at Wilderness Lodge. “Her Disney” seemed pretty enjoyable and by the time the boat arrived I was tempted to jump in on this unofficial tour that the friend was getting. They were lovely, charming, and joyful. Hopefully, by the end of the day the talker had converted the friend to “her Disney” ways. If not, I still think they’ll have plenty to talk about and I would love to listen.

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“It’s a world of laughter
A world of tears
It’s a world of hopes
And a world of fears
There’s so much that we share
That it’s time we’re aware
It’s a small world after all”

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IASW full building TDL

We rushed up Main Street, searching for a spot to enjoy Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas Time Parade. I was eager to get a spot there because I was looking forward to photographing the parade in the soap-snow. We finally squished into a spot on the corner of Main Street, across from The Confectionary. After sitting down and a brief strategy session on how to fit in another three people in this tight spot, I started looking around at who we’d clumsily flopped down by. To my left, I was surprised to see a little map with a Tokyo DisneySea logo.

Because of our amazing trip earlier in the year to Japan, I asked the couple sitting on the mat if they had been to Tokyo Disney Resort. Not only had they been there, they were visiting from Japan. They were a young Japanese couple – fashionable, shy and kind. The lady had a Duffy Bear sitting on her lap and the man had an impressive camera and lens.

We talked for a few minutes, trading our experiences which were remarkably similar. They had come to Orlando for a week to experience Disney World for the first time. Shortly after Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party ended, they had to go to the airport to catch their 15 hour flight home. I don’t think they were planning to sleep that night. I was impressed with how well they spoke English and we had a great time visiting with them. We tried to express how much we loved visiting their home country and how we long to go back to DisneySea, Tokyo and Kyoto, although, again, I’m not the best when it comes to talking. Later, I was struck by how similar our paths were. They were likely a few years younger than us but we’d both crossed the world to go on dream trips in a foreign land. I wish I’d told them that I hope they were treated as graciously and wonderfully as we were when visiting Japan. Instead, I just tried to save his spot while he went to get a drink from Starbucks.

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The battles, the stories, the losses and all the glories
We’re changed by the way we live every day
Just look up and reach to the sky
We all have the courage to fly

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Cast Member waving TDL

Community is a strange word that means a lot of different things to people. The internet is full of communities. Some of them seem like an excuse for people to argue with each other more than anything else while others are healthy and full of interesting conversation. The Disney fan community sometimes falls into both categories. But 2020 saw them dig in deep and show the best versions of themselves.

There were certainly arguments to be had. What to do with Splash Mountain? What in the world is going on with Epcot? How about the merits of the Rise of the Resistance Virtual Queue? People disagreed like they always do. Unfortunately, we all had a bigger cause to all get behind this year.

In March a global pandemic hit and the Disney fan community lost something they cherish more than anything. No, it’s not the parks, although we certainly missed and continue to miss those. More important than the parks that many of us call home, we lost our Cast Members. It’s like a house versus family. Your family can move and you’ll definitely miss that childhood house but at least you still have your brothers and sisters with you. The Cast Members are family to many of us, the lifeblood that made that house, the theme parks, feel like a home.

Since March, Disney has laid off thousands upon thousands of Cast Members. Seemingly every month there’s a news update of more getting laid off. Every single time that news has hit, I’ve seen a swell of support on Social Media and other sites for those that will be unemployed for a while. There have been hundreds of thousands of dollars donated to food banks in Orlando and Anaheim. Strangers have taken in Cast Members to live with them while others have paid their rent. Many of us tried to help those that we knew personally and get them back on their feet. Of course, I’m sure some have slipped by and haven’t received the support they needed but I’m confident in saying that if they reach out that someone will help. Heck, if you’re reading this and are a former Cast Member that needs help please leave a comment.

No amount of support is going to change having a dream taken away from you. I’m not here to toot the Disney Fan Community’s horn about how great we are. It’s just that sometimes people get taken to the floor by situations outside of their own control. That’s when family is there to help pick you back up. For years, Cast Members have made us feel like family. This year it was time for the Disney fan community to return the favor and it will be that way until we can get their dreams back on track.

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High five line TDS

Below is a link for an Anaheim food bank that is frequented by Cast Members. If you’re so inclined, please donate to them. Wandering in Disney will match the first $100 donated, just leave us a comment on this post or on social media. Take care and God bless you!

Donate to Cast Member Pantry
Donate to Orange County Second Harvest Food Bank

Thank you to everyone we’ve encountered on our adventures or those that have read the blog over the last few years. You have made our travels personal, beautiful, and purposeful. More importantly, you have made our love for humanity grow. Taking photos and writing on Wandering in Disney has been incredibly rewarding and will continue to be. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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